Dell shows off new chassis for desktop, mobile PCs

Dell also announced plans to refresh its Latitude notebook PC line with the same sleek, midnight-gray SD chassis material, which will be the new look for its C600 and C800 model Latitudes, according to officials.

Available next month, the new SD PC chassis design sports convenient front-side USB and audio ports, AGP (accelerated graphics port) slot support, and a nondetachable cover that requires less work space when servicing the unit, while eliminating the possibility of reattaching the wrong cover in a busy IS environment, according to Kurt Holman, the manager of platform product marketing at Dell. Color-coded internal connectors and tool-less internal hardware component removal also are intended to make it easier to maintain the SD chassis.

Both new Latitude notebooks incorporate a built-in antenna connecting to a MiniPCI bay for integrating 802.11b wireless LAN capabilities when the optional radio component becomes available from Dell.

Although two more versions of the OptiPlex PC line with the SD chassis are expected to arrive later this year, Holman said that the direction Dell is taking is to reduce the number of different chassis offerings while increasing the number of different available software configurations shipping inside those chassis.

Perhaps most importantly, Holman added that the new SD chassis could be produced in a Dell factory in nearly half the time it took to produce previous OptiPlex chassis.

Dell's move follows a recent trend in computer makers consolidating their PC product lines or transitioning to newer, more efficient designs.

Last September, Compaq consolidated its entire Prosignia PC line into its Deskpro and Armada PC group. Ten days later, IBM introduced a redesign of its NetVista PC line, following a road map set late last year calling for an overall revamp of the company's PC products, known as the EON (Edge Of Network) initiative.

"There is a clear industry trend toward the consolidation around a single PC chassis, and I think that it is actually more beneficial for the vendors than end-users. [Vendors] are more efficient from having a single chassis and a single motherboard," said Kevin Knox, an analyst at industry research firm Gartner.

"I think you will see this from all the other vendors, as they are each trying to get as efficient as they can on the manufacturing process," Knox said.

Although Knox regards the new SD chassis as a "phenomenal design," he feels that last August's Image Management Services announcement from Dell, a commitment by the company to offer and maintain almost any system image a customer desires, was a significant precursor to Dell's gradual consolidation of form factor and more beneficial to an IS department.

"System image and stability in the platform is really what's important, what's on the outside; aesthetics are always going to be nice. But I think the focus is shifting away from megahertz and megabytes to months, and months being a measure of stability in a platform," Knox said.

Knox believes that most of the ease of maintenance features offered inside the SD chassis yield more savings for Dell, the manufacturer, than for the end-user, who is increasingly more concerned with a consistent system image, particularly in large enterprises made up of hundred of PC deployments.

"That's really where the saving comes in [with SD], at the vendor level rather than at the IS level, who rarely open boxes looking to replace stuff anymore. Today serviceability is more a vendor benefit than a end-user benefit," Knox said.

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